Trope Me This: The Hero’s Journey

The Hero’s Journey encompasses tales where a hero leaves home, encounters overwhelming opposition to completing some quest, wins a decisive victory, and then returns home a changed person.

Think Odysseus.
Or Frodo.
Or Shea Ohmsford.

I love this image above (which I found on wikipedia, no copyright, search Hero’s Journey) that really nicely outlines the general stages to the Hero’s Journey. Depending on who you ask, there could be MANY more stages, but these are generally just broken down components of the main stages of the journey.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think I’d call this the MOST used trope in writing (GvE might be close, though). So why do we keep using it? Is there even another form to write a story in? Or have we been so conditioned to only think of stories in this manner?

The Hero’s Journey, broken down to its barest essence, is the story of change within a person. While yes, they adventure and kill things and win the fights and all that, it’s not a true hero’s journey without the internal change and coming home. This change is accompanied by the leaving home and winning the big fight.

There are several other ways to develop or change your character, and I think it’s rather brilliantly outlined here, so I won’t re-write it.

The Hero’s Journey, while a nice guideline that leaves lots of room for interesting things to happen, only applies to one type of character – the Hero, whether likely or unlikely. But, what if you want to write the villain? Or even just an antihero?

Then you can look at some different ways to structure a story that aren’t the hero’s journey, and maybe looking for ways to subvert this trope could be just as satisfying as writing it.

What are some ways to subvert the trope?

Fortunately, this is pretty easy since all the steps are laid out. Perhaps you stick with the call to adventure and your hero takes off. What’s the next step? Supernatural aid? Skip it. Or make the supernatural actually work AGAINST your hero. Or maybe you build the group of helpers and skip the mentor altogether. Maybe there is no mentor. Maybe your group is trying to figure out as they go, blundering along, and somehow making it work. Or, even not making it work. We learn far more from our failures than from our successes. Maybe your hero transforms in a negative way instead of a positive way – maybe the experience jades them because most of their friends are dead and now they have some serious PTSD, but their home environment isn’t accepting of such intense and radical issues.

It’s not necessary to turn a trope entirely on its head to make things interesting, but just twisting the trope a tiny bit could add some seriously interesting elements.

What if you want to try something totally different?

Maybe you’re wanting to experiment with killing off your hero (radical, right?). That’s fine, just make sure that you start shifting focus away from the hero before you kill them off, or you could find yourself trying to “replace” your hero mid-story. This necessarily ends the “hero’s journey” trope because the hero is dead, and thus, cannot return home.

What if there’s isn’t one specific hero? What if it really is all a group effort and while there is a leader of the group, there isn’t one specific hero? Maybe the group itself is the hero and the dynamics of the group is what changes because of the internal changes of various characters?

 

When starting out, it’s easy to feel like there is only one way to write a story, but when you step back for a few minutes, search the internet a bit, and try to find ways to turn things on their heads, a whole new world of opportunities opens up.

As writers, I believe it’s our job to push boundaries and look for new ways to do things instead of always following age-old formulas.

 

What’s a way you could see to subvert the Hero’s Journey and try something else? Have you written something like that? Have you read something that successfully leaves the Hero’s Journey in the dust or makes it far more interesting than the usual Hero’s Journey?

 


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2 thoughts on “Trope Me This: The Hero’s Journey

  1. Hmmm… I’m not sure I would consider “The Hero’s Journey” a trope, but more of a type of story. I think you explained the definition of A Hero’s Journey well and gave some great examples. The Original Star Wars trilogy and The Lord of the Rings are great examples of a hero’s journey story, but within those stories themselves are tropes. The chosen one trope, the underdog trope, the wise old master trope, etc.

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    1. I found in much of my research, it was considered a trope. Perhaps it was so because it’s SO common and whatever it common in literature is always assumed to be a trope?

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